Thursday, April 30, 2015

Fixing Our Cities

Over the past several days, my blog and my attention have been dominated by the mess in Baltimore. Like everyone else, I have watched events unfold there with a combination of sadness and anger. But mostly, I have been overcome by a sense of hopelessness, the idea that the problems in our cities are simply beyond remedy. My son, after reading one of my blogs, made this statement: “OK, so liberal policies haven’t worked. What’s YOUR plan?” His question has hung in the air ever since. It is one thing to point out the clear failures of others, another thing entirely to offer up a reasonable alternative. I have thought of little else since.

What follows is the result of all of this introspection. I must state up front that I’m no social planner, I have no particular training in urban studies and certainly, I am no politician. So, I have no idea whether the solutions I’m about to offer would actually work. My ideas aren’t immune to that worst nightmare of all central planners, the law of unintended consequences. Still, these are a start, if for no other reason than to provide me with a sense that our problems might in fact have a workable solution.

I should probably point out that most of the problems of the inner city have their origins in the erosion of the family, an unintended consequence of a whole host of policies which had loftier intentions. Despite the fact that most of America's big cities have been run almost exclusively by the Democratic Party for the past 40 years, I will endeavor to discuss these problems without assigning blame because frankly, at this point it doesn’t matter whose fault it all is. It just needs to be fixed! The question then becomes, are there policies that could be brought to bear that would encourage the re-establishment of the family structure, and are there policies that we could eliminate that discourage intact families from staying so?

So, without further delay, here’s what I would do if I were King to attempt to fix our cities.

1    1.     End the War on Drugs.

By any measure, the War on Drugs has been a colossal failure. We have spent a fortune, made criminals out of two generations of mostly black men and accomplished no significant public good. This war has been fought almost entirely in the inner city and the vast majority of those in jail for drug crimes are black. This despite the fact that white suburbanites have prodigious appetites for everything from pot to heroin, and without white customers willing and able to pay, the drug business would be in serious trouble. One has to ask the question, what societal good is accomplished by arresting a twenty year old for smoking a couple of joints and saddling him with a criminal record and jail time? Are his prospects of finding gainful, lawful employment helped or hurt by his time being locked up with a thousand other hardened criminals? And before you start lecturing me about how horrible a problem drug addiction is for society, check yourself. There’s no chance in hell that pot smoking is more injurious to society at large than alcohol abuse. How many people get killed by people driving while high compared to driving while drunk? How many pot smokers get all hyped up on cannabis and then go home and beat their wives?

I’m not a drug user and I would strongly discourage anyone I know and love from becoming one, but the only thing the War on Drugs has accomplished is removing millions of black men from their homes, and from their neighborhoods, creating the very fatherless homes that conservatives lament.

2.  Replace welfare with a jobs program.

Yes, yes, I know what all of you House of Cards fans are thinking, “He stole that idea from Frank Underwood!” No, not exactly. Well, maybe…a little. First of all, what I’m about to propose will sound strange coming from someone as Libertarian as I am, I know. Secondly, I am very aware that the government has shown itself to be pathetically inept at “creating jobs” so I concede that this idea has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. But, hear me out.

FDR’s famous New Deal did not bring this country out of the Great Depression; that would have been World War II and the beneficial impact of placing the entire nation’s industrial output on a war footing. However, the jobs that the government did create accomplished something quite profound. They transformed, in the public imagination, the notion that they were not on the public doll…something for Americans of all races in the 1930’s would have been anathema. Instead, men like my grandfather, who worked on the Civilian Conservation Corps that built the Skyline Drive, were able to hold onto their pride as working men. When they cashed their government paychecks it was for services rendered, and that allowed them to be in full possession of their dignity.

By contrast, the checks that keep most inner cities barely viable are in exchange for nothing. In fact, the more dysfunctional your life becomes the bigger the check. Accordingly, I propose putting every able-bodied welfare recipient to work as a requirement of receiving government assistance. If we are committed to spending money on welfare, why not allow its recipients to earn it. What kind of jobs would these be? Frankly, I don’t know. But you can’t tell me that a nation that put a man on the freaking moon can’t get the smartest people from business and government together and figure this thing out. How about cleaning up the streets, block by block? How about replacing burnt out empty lots with gardens, not ones planted by a bunch of do-gooder college kids, but by the people who live next door?

Of course these make-work jobs are temporary. But make-work jobs are infinitely better than no job. To provide more permanent, sustainable employment, we will need to consider….

3.  Repealing NAFTA.

Back in the 1990’s I was a vocal supporter of the free trade movement. Nafta was a bi-partisan policy that was initially pushed by Republicans but ultimately passed by Bill Clinton. I thought at the time that the benefits of free trade would far outweigh the negatives. On the positive side, I thought that we would all benefit from lower prices on practically everything, and I was right. Witness the rise of giant retailers like Walmart and Costco who sell us adorable clothes for toddlers at  everyday low low prices. But, I challenge you to go into your closet right now and see if you can find any garment that was made in this country. Chances are, you won’t, because we no longer have a textile industry, especially in the State of Virginia, the southside of which used to be filled with textile plants churning out everything from jeans to overcoats. Who used to work in those plants? Generally speaking, whites and blacks with high school educations or lower who despite their limitations could get a factory job and manage to enter the middle class. Where do they work now? Many of them don’t. But, not to worry, they get welfare and food stamps so, it’s all good. No…it is not!!

We manufacture nothing in this country anymore which may be fine for many people since that adorable Osh Kosh By Gosh jumper is on sale for $3.99, but for large segments of what used to be called the Middle Class, it matters greatly. It turns out that the noble idiot, Ross Perot, was right when he described that giant sucking sound as the sound of American jobs for the working classes heading down to Mexico!

Yes, many jobs that were shipped overseas have been replaced with other jobs in industries that were unheard of in the 1990’s and that’s all wonderful. But if you eliminate the jobs that working people relied upon and replace them with jobs that require a Master’s Degree in computer science, that’s not going to help Bubba and Leroy provide for their families. When we tell welfare recipients in Baltimore to “get a job,” where exactly do we suggest they go to look? Nepal? Because that’s where those adorable toddler jumpers are being sewn together by 12 year old girls working 17 hour days so we can have money left over for our pedicures.

And yes, I know that one of the reasons American workers aren’t as competitive as those elsewhere in many cases are the result of ridiculously generous and inflexible union contracts. But again, somewhere out there, there has got to be someone who can come up with some sensible compromises that can begin to bring manufacturing jobs back to America.

4.  Demilitarize Policing

No one appreciates the job that policemen do more than I do. These men and women work long hours doing a demanding job for embarrassingly low pay. The vast majority of them do their jobs well. But something has gone terribly wrong with policing tactics when video keeps surfacing showing three cops using violent force apprehending a citizen guilty of nothing more than selling loose cigarettes. The rules of engagement that encourage such extreme force have to be revisited. Our cops look more like members of some elite SWAT team than cops. Now, I know that Mayberry was a fictional place and that Sherriff Andy Taylor was a character in a television show, but who among us doesn’t long to be protected by a cop with the wisdom and grace of Andy Taylor, he of the empty gun holster. 

Yes, times have changed. Today’s criminals are meaner, and better armed than ever. Still, it’s hard to see the benefit of armored personnel carriers, tanks and strike forces loaded down with automatic rifles roaming the streets and think to yourself, “Aww…to protect and defend.” What jumps quicker to mind is, “Aww…to invade and destroy.” Something is wrong when hardly a week goes by without some cell phone video hitting the Drudge Report showing some officer somewhere beating the crap out of some unarmed kid…or worse. It makes a cynical person wonder how often this type of stuff went on before cell phone cameras became ubiquitous.

My advice? Dial it back about ten notches with the Dirty Harry routine. Start demonstrating some restraint and go back to reserving the rough stuff for guys who are committing actual violent crimes, not the poor slob who has a blown out back up light.

Ok, that’s my short list. It’s not perfect, some of it may not work. I have not addressed many other big problem areas like education, but it's a start.  And at least my son can't say I haven't offered an alternative besides the status quo.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Who's Running Baltimore?

The burnt out remnants of CVS are still warm, and we have already heard the first call for more spending as the solution for crumbling cities in America. Everyone from Steny Hoyer to President Obama have attempted to lay the blame for Baltimore's troubles on the stinginess of Republicans.

There was Hoyer yesterday telling us that unless we wanted to see more riots in other cities, we were going to have to be willing to "invest if we're going to have the communities we want." Then the President intoned,  "there's a bunch of my agenda that would make a difference right now in that." He then called for more spending for early education, criminal justice reform and job training.

Despite this alleged "stinginess" of the Republican Party, we have somehow managed to wrack up 18 trillion dollars in debt, nearly 8 trillion of that while Obama has been President. One shudders to think of how high that number might be if Republicans were big spenders.

Luckily for the Democrat Party, the media will not hold them accountable for any of the disaster in Baltimore, despite the fact that this city has been under one party rule for over a generation. Every seat on city council is held by a Democrat. Every major leadership role in the police department is staffed by a loyal Democrat. Baltimore is the deepest of deep blue cities. For most of the past forty years, the Governor's mansion and the State Assembly have also belonged to the Democrat Party. It would seem that the results of such dominance have been less than stellar. And yet, we are being told that what plagues Baltimore, along with other Democrat-run cities in our country, is some slippery conspiracy of a non-existent star chamber of Republicans somewhere doing something. Ok.

More money is the answer. More spending will do the trick. We aren't "investing" enough on urban renewal projects. We are being too stingy with funding for job training and early education initiatives. Why, if we would only open up the federal checkbook and fund all these initiatives, cities from Detroit to Baltimore, from Atlanta to Oakland would soon blossom into San Diego's before our very eyes. If someone would just do something about income inequality, then black families in cities all across America would suddenly have two parents. If we would just stop shipping manufacturing jobs over-seas, then crime rates would plunge. If we could just summon the will to make unemployment compensation permanent while simultaneously doubling the minimum wage, jobs would stampede into the blighted communities of even the most distressed cities in America.

Here's an idea for a campaign slogan for Democrat politicians running unopposed for re-election in practically every big city in the country..." Elect me again. This time, I'll get it right."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Baltimore, Burning.

Yesterday, I played a round of golf at the Federal club. I sponsored a foursome for my friend's charity tournament. We successfully raised quite a bit of money for the First Tee program which benefits mostly disadvantaged kids in the inner city of Richmond. We heard a guy speak of the work they do mentoring at-risk kids, teaching them valuable life lessons. Then I get in my car to drive home and hear on the radio that Baltimore is in flames.

I listened to the reporters describe the scenes of destruction and violence. I hear the incompetent press conference given by Baltimore's mayor and wonder how someone so relentlessly, hopelessly naive could possibly have gotten elected. Then I got home, turned on the television and saw the police cars on fire, the triumphant young men parading their looted cans of Pringles and toilet paper for all to see. I saw lines of police in riot gear dodging rocks and bricks, boys and girls in hoodies having the time of their lives, caught up in the melee.

A CNN reporter informed me that this all was a reaction to the funeral of Freddie Gray, the young black man who recently had his neck broken inside a police van and died while in custody. Further, the Gray incident had simply been the catalyst for decades of heavy handed policing tactics employed by Baltimore's finest. 

I switch channels and hear a FOX reporter telling me that two rival street gangs, the Crips and the Bloods had recently made a deal to temporarily stop killing each other in order to strike a blow at Baltimore's policemen. There's a picture of them standing together with several bow-tied representatives of the Nation of Islam, giving their gang hand signs.

I switch over to MSNBC, for no particular reason, and see footage of dense clouds of smoke billowing from a burning CVS. A fire truck has arrived to put out the flames, but some guy is filmed slashing the hose. He apparently wants the store to burn to the ground.

I switch back to CNN. There's Elijah Cummings pleading with the rioters to stop. To the rest of us he laments, "This is not Baltimore!" Over on FOX Montel Williams says the same thing. "Just a couple hundred knuckleheads out of a city of 600,000 people."

Martin O'Malley, former Maryland Governor and nascent Democrat Presidential candidate issues a statement talking about how he mourns the city he loves and longs for the day when all can come together to begin the healing process. Hillary Clinton tweets out a warning to her supporters not to miss their chance to get free campaign bumper stickers.

This morning I read of the ubiquitous Al Sharpton and his plan for yet another march, this one from Baltimore to Washington to protest the root causes of all this mayhem. No justice, no peace, or some such thing. Ok. Looks like we are in for a long, hot summer.

I watch and listen, and come away with nothing. I don't even know how to respond to what I see and hear. It all seems so hopeless. I'm basically a law and order type of person, one who believes that without some sort of basic respect for the law and private property, chaos is what happens. But I also believe something is dreadfully wrong with policing in this country. While the vast majority of cops are good guys doing a terribly difficult job, there have been enough bad apples to suggest that we have a serious problem with excessive force, racism or...something. Too often the victims of this unwarranted aggression are black, and with every new revelation, the tensions become more dangerous. There will be more Baltimore's. We will watch young blacks destroying their own communities, gleefully watching the few businesses stupid enough to locate in the inner city, burning to the ground. And what will replace them? Will CVS be willing to rebuild a store in such a place? If they don't, will they be accused of racism? Will the feckless mayor of Baltimore appear before a House committee soon pleading for tax-payer funds to rebuild the city that her hands off policy helped destroy? 

You can count on it.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Brian Williams vs Hillary Clinton

A couple of days ago, I was enjoying a surprisingly good bowl of she-crab soup at a popular Short Pump sports bar, when the proprietor, a good friend of mine, sat down beside me and asked me a serious question. This alone is noteworthy since guys in sports bars don't often ask each other questions weightier than, " Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays?" But my friend was dead serious and for reasons that escape me thought I would know the answer to this earnest question:

" So, how come Brian Williams loses everything for making up a story about taking enemy fire in Iraq, but Hillary Clinton does the exact same thing about being under sniper fire at some airport in Bosnia and she gets a pass?"

I stumbled through some explanation about bias in the media and what not, but my answer didn't even satisfy me, let alone my friend. Since then I've had time to think about it a little more and feel better prepared to attempt an answer.

The reason Brian Williams has entered the witness protection program somewhere in South Dakota and Hillary Clinton is still running for President is because to the media, Brian Williams is...the competition. For real journalists, the ones who actually have a degree, and ordinary facial features, Brian Williams is everything they love to empty-headed news reader with great hair and a boyish grin who couldn't write his way out of a wet paper bag, yet makes millions of dollars a year. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has neither great hair or a warm smile, but she is the living breathing hope of every progressive journalist from New York to Los Angeles, which means...98% of working journalists. Sure, they may be concerned by her ham-fisted manor, her slimy associations and business dealings, and they are probably embarrassed by her thin list of actual accomplishments, but, they are so heavily invested in her at this point, they're probably willing to follow her straight to hell rather than run the risk of a President Walker.

So, unless pictures surface of Mrs. Clinton in a compromising position with a farm animal, the wagons will be permanently circled around the first female President. Now that I think about it, even THAT wouldn't bother James Carville, who can always be depended upon to spin any bad Clinton news...

"Naw, now come on! Y'all city folks just don't understand Arkansas ways. Hillary and that horse were close, that's all. The poor thing had just lost her foal and needed a little consolin'...just some bad lighting in that picture. I guarandamn-tee ya this was George Bush's doin!"

Of course, it's entirely possible that I am wrong about Hillary's inevitability. Maybe the grand poobahs of the Democrat party decide that they've had enough of her and Bill. Maybe Democrat voters will leave her at the alter again for some new fresher face. But I doubt it. If she gets the nomination, she will be our next President. When that happens, the Democratic Party and the American people will be totally without excuse for whatever follows. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Checking My Privilege

Back when I was in college( right after electricity, just before indoor plumbing ), the big thing on everyone's  mind was the existential battle going on between Communism and Democracy, represented by the Cold War standoff between us and the Soviet Union. Maybe it was the nuclear arsenals and all the saber rattling, but it seemed that no matter what class you were in, eventually the subject would come up. Existential conflicts will do that to you, I suppose. Sure, there were other issues, the Iran hostage crisis, for example, and gas lines. But basically, all the intellectual heavy lifting was being done in the arena of international politics.

Well, thanks to having had two kids finish grad school, I have been introduced to a brand new concept, which thanks to the fall of the Berlin Wall, has risen to the top of the heap in academia...privilege, specifically my need as a white man to check mine. I am not schooled in the finer points of this issue, but from what I am able to pick up on social media, I will attempt an explanation. I welcome anyone reading this who is in their middle twenties, to correct me if I get this wrong.

Apparently, society runs along within a patriarchal construct, whereby white men enjoy tremendous advantages in practically every area of life, even and especially when they aren't aware of this advantage. It permeates all aspects of human interaction, and the only way to overcome it is to first, be aware of this privilege, and second, to check it. By "check it" I assume this would take the form of some sort of self-censoring, self denial mechanism whereby we white men, upon sensing that we are about to become the beneficiary of some huge unfair advantage that our whiteness affords, suddenly correct our behavior in a way that places us at the back of the line, behind people of every other color, and women...lots of women. I thought, in my ignorant privilege, that this was what affirmative action
was all about. But, AA is just the legal arm of the issue, while the "check your privilege" concept is
more like a hearts and minds sort of thing. The list of things that I enjoy privilege in is rather long and includes, but I'm sure is not limited to:

1. White privilege.
2. Male privilege.
3. Wealth privilege.
4. Heterosexual privilege.
5. Able-bodied privilege.
6. Educated privilege.

That's a lot of privilege. And to think that when I was born in 1958 I spent my first year living in a trailer park in south side Richmond. But, I suppose the fact that I have managed to overcome those humble beginnings serves as proof of just how powerful those privileges are. The fact that the
majority of those who lived in that trailer park in 1958 are statistically still there does not in any way call into question the power of privilege, rather they serve as an indictment of the unfairness inherent in a life that is ruled by the class struggle. My escape from the trailer park only proves that I benefitted from:

7. Competitive privilege.....the unfair advantage that many white males have gained by participation in team sports at a young age.

Of course, to fully buy-in to this privilege thing, I would need to devalue most of what I've accomplished so far in my life, since it was all so ill-gotten and undeserved. It would also require a reorientation of my thinking about what brings success in life. Instead of relentless hard work and sacrifice being the source of good fortune, I would have to believe that the guarantor of prosperity was the random accident of my birth as a white, able-bodied, heterosexual male. If I do this, I will become a guilt-ridden, self-loathing, emasculated wuss....which from much of what I have read seems to be the whole idea.

I better check my:

8. Sarcasm privilege.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

It's All My Mother's Fault

"I think being in charge of 112 hormonal humans each day at work has awoke a Dunnevant Family take-charge brazenness that's lain dormant within me for most of my life. I smiled and nodded understandingly through plenty of nonsense and inconvenience as a younger woman, but my tolerance for incompetence has worn thin. Today, after being told that my car would stay in the repair shop for yet another day, I heard myself declare in no uncertain terms and without missing a beat that the lag time on this repair was unacceptable, that my husband and I were very disappointed in the poor customer service, and that we expected better. My tone made ME nervous. I mean, I came close to issuing him a lunch detention. The man stuttered and stammered for a while and then miraculously found a way to finish the repair before closing time tonight.

Lately, when I hear myself speaking, I feel simultaneously impressed by my assertiveness and humbled by my lack of patience and grace. Whichever way the cookie crumbles, I blame/credit the shenanigans of my 112 middle schoolers...and the Dunnevants."

When I read my daughter's Facebook status from yesterday, I had my own "simultaneously impressed and humbled" moment. I had such high hopes for Kaitlin. I thought that maybe, just maybe she was going to turn out to be the nice one. I mean, Linda and Bill have Christina so it is possible. But no...two years of middle school has unleashed that old familiar family tradition in my sweet, beautiful Kaitlin. I blame my mother. It's all her fault. Let me explain.

Anyone who knew my Dad would tell you that there never lived a kinder, more gentle soul. He was a true gentleman, possessed of endless patience, and when not in the pulpit, he was the very definition of tact. He managed to pass on these admirable traits to zero of his children. Why? Because my mother's genes were dominant. We all inherited her opinionated, forceful, aggressive, argumentative,(notice the great literary lengths to which I am going in order to avoid the word, "RUDE") nature. As such, there are a long list of occupations to which Dunnevants are ill-suited. For example:


Ambassador From Kyrgyzstan: My country would like to object in the strongest way to the Imperialist Dogs of America who are attempting to plunder my country's natural resources in a capitalist conspiracy to...

Me: You smell.


Constituent: I've been out of work for two years and now they tell me my unemployment checks are going to be cut off! I want you to do something about this outrage.

Me: What do I look like, your mother?  Two years on the public doll is enough, you lazy slob.

A dear friend of mine said to me the other day, " Doug, some days I wish so much that I could be like you and just not care what anyone thought about me." This, I believe, is what is known as a back-handed compliment. And it's not entirely true. It's not that I don't care what people think of me, it's more like I don't care...very much. Whenever my buddies at work are at a restaurant together and there's a problem with service they all look at me and say, "Well? Aren't you gonna say something?" 

This is all my mother's fault. There's a reason why she was famous for the expression, "getting up in the pictures" although none of us is quite sure what it means exactly, we are quite sure it isn't a compliment. So when I read Kaitlin's status and imagined her getting all up in the pictures with that unfortunate mechanic, giving him the business, I was at once proud and disappointed. 

Maybe my grandchildren will be like Papa.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Stupid Stuff We Ask The Military To Do

There's a new commercial that runs on sports talk radio advertising the virtues of the United States Navy. In it a deep baritone voice lists the things that the Navy is busy doing this very minute, everything from keeping an eye on terrorists to patrolling the hostile waters off the coast of every trouble spot on the planet. And then this:

"...and building a school for disadvantaged kids in the third world."


Ok, listen...I love schools. I love kids. Kids going to school is about the most wholesome, feel-good optic ever. But, we're talking about the U.S. Navy here. What in the name of Admiral Nimitz are a bunch of sailors doing building a school, uh, anywhere? You want to know why our defense budget consumes a half a trillion dollars a year? You won't have to look much farther than a platoon of ensigns throwing up a school in the Sudan. This is what happens when Statists like George Bush and Barack Obama decide that our military should get into the business of "nation building." This puts the creep into mission creep.

Throughout its long and storied history, the United States military has proven itself adept at a short list of things, namely, killing people and breaking things. Frankly, that's all I want them involved in, and rarely do I want them doing even that. Besides, no offense to the Sudanese, but I can think of a couple of places in America that could use a new school or two.

Speaking of things the U.S. Military has no business doing... In light of the recent tragedy in the Mediterranian where over 800 souls perished trying to escape the horrors of Libya, perhaps we should ask ourselves how our intervention in the Libyan Civil War has worked out. Remember back in 2011 when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told us about the horrible things going on in Libya, about what a horrible man Qaddafi was and that we just HAD to do something to protect innocent civilians? Yeah, well we helped the rebels depose of the autocratic man who had ruled that unruleable land for over forty years, declared victory, and split. Now the place is the very definition of chaos and is being run by an unholy alliance of cut-throats, people smugglers, psychopaths and ISIS shock troops parading Christians on its beaches where their grizzly executions are filmed for our viewing pleasure. Victory, indeed.

We can expect a whole lot more of this sort of thing because of the universally true adage about military adventures being the father of unintended consequences. Add Libya to the long and growing list of things that are none of our freaking business. Next year when you are trying to decide who to support for President, perhaps you should ask yourself, which one of these people will be least likely to want to ask the Marines to build a community center in Bangladesh. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

God's Plan To Keep Virginians Humble

Being a native Virginian, I have often bragged about the happy accident of my origins...Southern by birth, Virginian by the grace of God...that sort of thing. Besides the rich historical heritage of my home state comes the special geographic charm of living in a place which is equidistant from the Blue Ridge mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, we have four separate and distinct seasons. We get snow in the winter, beautiful greenery in the spring, hot summers and gorgeous fall foliage. However, once a year we also get something else, something that for a brief season makes me hate where I live. 


Yes, about the time that we shake off the surly bonds of winter, we start noticing the yellow/green menace. It begins to sneak into our lives, a thin haze of goo, the residue of a veritable orgy of plant copulation going on all around us. All this vegetation has no shame, no sense of decorum. Everywhere you look, all manor of stamen, anthers and pistils are doing their business in full view, with no concern for the God awful mess they leave behind. It is left to us to clean it from our cars, our driveways and side walks. It is up to us to somehow prevent it from infiltrating our homes. Just this morning amidst radiant sunshine and mild temperatures, I briefly forgot that I am a Virginian and it is mid April. I foolishly decided to take my breakfast out on the deck. Within five minutes I noticed that a yellow film had coated the top of my coffee. It took five freaking minutes!!!

So, for the next month or so, Short Pump will see probably half of its citizens clutching white hankerchiefs in one hand and a bottle of Claritan in the other. Everyone's eyes will be red and runny, and half of us will be high on some sort of anti-histamine, making car travel on Three Chopt, Pump and Broad an even dicier proposition than normal. You put a West End woman behind the wheel of a Tahoe under the best of circumstances, and your odds of damage are pretty high. Hype that woman up on Benadryl and you've got an M1 Abrams tank with a half blind teenager at the wheel.

Then there's the problem of what to do with the cars. I mean, you can't just drive them around with an inch of nature on the windshield, but you also can't spend 30 bucks at Carpool getting them cleaned either. So, you put them in the drive way each night and while wearing all the required protective clothing, you hose the things down. Then you watch the yellow river of pollen flowing down your driveway into the street, a trail of tears. Then you turn the leaf blower on yourself before going back inside the house. Still, a cleansing shower must be taken before you dare get into bed for the night.

Fortunately for we Virginians, this is only a four to five week adventure. It is the price we pay for being so clearly better than the other 49, God's way of keeping us humble, I suppose. There's more I could write on this subject but I've gotta go to Lowe's to buy some air filters.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lucy and Me at the Hospital

In the past 24 hours I have discovered that the only place worse than an actual hospital is a pet hospital. Last night I spent 3 and a half hours at the Veterinary Referral & Critical Care facility in Manakin-Sabot with Miss Lucy. I spent most of that time in the "family room" waiting on reports from the doctors, and talking with my fellow stressed pet owners. I heard the life story of a 14 year old diabetic Chitzu who was near the end of her life. Through a stream of tears, a middle aged single woman told me about her chocolate lab Willow, who, like Lucy, had eaten something she had no business eating and was now plagued with gastro-intestinal issues. Since this woman had never married and had no children, Willow was her child and she didn't know what she would do if she didn't pull through. About the time I figured that the place couldn't possibly get any more depressing, in walked a giant of a man clutching a Dalmatian puppy close to his chest pleading with the nurses to help his little guy who had apparently broken one of its back legs and was in extreme discomfort.

It was a long night.

In Lucy's case, it has been a couple of days since she has eaten anything, and after a rather routine bowel movement 36 hours ago, she has been a hot mess, obsessed and extremely agitated with her bottom. She can't take two steps without practically giving herself whiplash whirling around trying to smell or inspect it. Her personality has drastically changed; she wants nothing to do with us. It's as if she is embarrassed by whatever is wrong back there and wants to be by herself. Well, 36 hours, three trips to the Vet and pet hospital, two sets of X-Rays and $987.36 later we still don't quite know what's wrong. Although there are no obstructions, she obviously ate something out in the yard that has given her fits as it makes its way through her system, vomiting and now diarrhea. They kept her last night for observation and hydration and as I type this, I am waiting for the promised 7 am phone call from the Vet to let me know how she did during the night and to inform me of what the next step should be. At least no surgery will be required which was very much a possibility last night.

See, this is the thing with dogs. They barrel into your life like an out of control freight train, completely disrupting your routine. You throw everything into their care, spend ridiculous amounts of money in pursuit of their happiness, then slowly feel them wrapping their tentacles around your heart. In no time, despite bathroom accidents, ubiquitous slobber and occasionally ill-placed vomit, you wake up one day and realize that you are hopelessly in love with a 60 pound shedding monster. Then they dig up some plutonium in the back yard for an afternoon snack and you wind up at the Veterinary Referral & Critical Care facility listening to a brick layer telling you the story of an eight year old Boston Terrier named Max. You're actually fighting back tears.

Dog ownership is not for the selfish, not for the poor and definitely not for the faint of heart.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Ticking Clock Called April 15th

Today is April 15th, the day that federal taxes are due. My life is oriented around this day. As of this writing, my return is not yet in my hands, but I am assured by Carl, my accountant, that it will be ready in time. I have no idea how much I'll owe. I hope it's not very much, but I'm prepared to be disappointed.

I am not an anti-tax zealot. I have no objection to paying them. Taxes are what free people pay for the privilege of living in a free country. I may object to how much I have to pay or how it's spent, but not to the concept of taxation itself. Further, even if I think I am over-taxed and the government wastes money, it's up to me to pay what I owe. It's the law of the land, and I have no patience for free-loaders.

Still, there is a part of me that resents how large a roll April 15th plays in my life. The complexity of taxation seems intentionally baked into the cake, making it necessary for me to hire an accountant to navigate me through the maze of schedules and forms. I feel helpless. When Carl delivers my return to me today, it will resemble a college thesis written by a math major with the gift of gab. I won't even bother to look at the pages and pages and pages that follow the cover page, because it's the cover page that helpfully distills the matter into a sentence that I can understand, " please sign where indicated and make a check payable to the United States Treasury in the amount of $........" 

Although I love Carl and I happily pay him for his invaluable services every year, I resent that I need him. The fact that our system of taxation is so bizarrely complex is at the root of almost every dysfunction in Washington since it is precisely this complexity that gives those in Washington their power. Imagine how fast K Street would become an abandoned city if our 50,000 page tax code were replaced with a flat tax with no deductions. Try to imagine how less sinister our Congressmen and women would be if they were stripped of their ability to micro-manage our lives through the tax code. The reason that most of Washington is against tax reform generally and the flat tax in particular is because they all know this to be true. 

Personally, I would be in favor of a flat tax even if it meant I would have to pay more. Ironically, even if it could be proven that a flat tax would increase revenue to the government, nobody in government would want it. They would rather retain the power to encourage me to use wind-powered, carbon-neutral solar-paneled lawn mowers by giving me an accelerated depreciation allowance and a tax credit, that I will have to hire an accountant to figure out how to claim. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You?"

I have written blogs about each candidate who announces for the Presidency. This one is about the latest, Marco Rubio, senator from Florida. Actually, it’s not going to be about him, but rather about something he said in his announcement speech that has resonated with me. I have no idea whether or not I will support Rubio, I don’t yet know enough about him. He may very well be a jerk, for all I know, but these lines spoke to me,

“I am humbled by the realization that America doesn’t owe me anything; but I have a debt to America I must try to repay. This isn’t just the country where I was born; America is the place that changed my family’s history.”

Fifty-five years ago, a Democratic President stood on the capitol steps and stirred America with these famous words,

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

John Kennedy was the very last Democrat to make such a suggestion to us. Every Democrat since has had a very different message which can best be described as, “Vote for me and I’ll make sure that the government takes care of you.” In all fairness, Republicans haven’t been much better. Each election seems to be a contest between which party will bring home the most bacon. Washington is now viewed as the source of all solutions to the problems we face. The government now has morphed into a giant vending machine that dispenses favors and benefits. You want 
subsidies for your struggling business? Have our lobbyists write a sweet deal into the 
tax code. You want to insure that buying a home gets subsidized by your fellow 
taxpayers? Give money to the Real Estate lobby to fight tax reform. You want the government to pay you unemployment benefits forever when you lose your job? No problem, vote Democrat. They have all the compassion with other people’s money you can possibly imagine.

Ronald Reagan came along and reminded us that the ten scariest words in the English language are, “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.” But, although his heart was in the right place, even he couldn’t slow the inexorable growth of the power and reach of the federal government. Today, it seems that the trend away from self-reliance and towards the welfare state is complete and irreversible.

Then, this 43 year old presidential candidate declares that this country owes him nothing. Not only does it owe him nothing, but he’s the one with the debt, because this country made his life and the life of his family possible. As someone who was born in 1958 into a family who had recently lived in a trailer park in south side Richmond, Virginia, I feel exactly the same way. On the day that I was born, no one in my extended family had ever attended college. One of my grandfathers was a sharecropper in Buckingham County. Now, I sit at this laptop computer contemplating the astounding good fortune which has come my way from a land of such profound opportunity…and I feel nothing but gratitude. I’m the one with the debt. And although Marco Rubio might not get my support, I for one am grateful for a candidate who dares to call us back to a time when all of us felt that debt and that gratitude.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hillary Clinton for President?

So, now it's Hillary Clinton's turn.

I find it quite ironic that she should choose to announce her candidacy on the very day that Pam and I watched the last two episodes of House of Cards. In them Claire Underwood, after spending thirty years in a calculated political marriage whose sole purpose was the acquisition of power, suddenly discovers that the Oval Office only has one chair...and she is none too happy about it. In the final scene of season three Claire does something that Hillary never had the stones to do...she leaves her husband.

I say all of this because I find House of Cards to be a rather thinly veiled biography( or hack job ) of the Clintons. Bill and Frank are both southern Democrats with tons of charm and few scruples. Claire and Hillary are both publically devoted and subservient to their husbands, but privately, equally duplicitous co-conspirators. The series is a monument to the ugliness of pride and arrogance and the spawn of those two vices...entitlement.

So, now the smartest woman in the world will run for President for the second time, and like the first she will enter the race as the prohibitive favorite. When she couldn't win in 2008, when she couldn't beat a nobody first-term senator from Illinois, with the thinnest resume since Kim Khardashian, I thought she was finished. But, here we are eight years later and she is the front runner...again. I suppose you should never count out the wife of Bill Clinton.

A quick review of strengths and weaknesses.


Experience. She has been close to the levers of power in this country for the better part of twenty years now. That counts for something.

Fund Raising. With the help of Bill, she has demonstrated an unprecedented ability to raise millions of dollars. The Clinton Foundation has shaken down not only every entity in the United States that hopes to get anything done in Washington, but foreign countries with the same objective. 

Symbolism. Hillary has the same advantage as the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is a symbol, a totem, the ultimate aggrieved minority, the latest "first." She would be the first female President, smasher of the ultimate glass ceiling. For an awful lot of people, men and women, this will be enough.


Accomplishments. Ask any Hillary supporter to sight five things that she has accomplished in her years of public service and you will hear a lot of stumbling and stuttering that usually ends with something about raising consciousness about some such thing or another. She was First Lady for eight years, and totally botched the only big job she was ever given, 1994's Hillary-Care fiasco. She was a carpet-bagger in reverse US senator from New York where she did less than nothing. Her years as Secretary of State have accomplished  the amazing feet of managing to make John Kerry look competent. 

And yet, here she is again, poised to make history. She leads in the polls practically everywhere and against practically everyone. If elected, she will give us the first "First Man," Bill Clinton. That alone might be reason enough to elect her. The First Rogue will be the single greatest thing to happen to late night comedians since Dan Qualyle.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Most Dangerous Drive in America

What's the most dangerous drive in America? The first answer that pops into my mind is interstate 95 from Richmond to Portland, Maine. Having driven it over thirty times in my life, I can attest to its white-knuckled, edge of your seat qualities. But, an equally compelling case can be made for the beltway around our nation's capital, or rush hour in Atlanta or Los Angeles. However, I have come to the conclusion that the most dangerous place to be in a car is in the parking lot of a big box hardware store on a Saturday morning, anywhere in America.

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day here in Short Pump after a week of dismal cloudiness. Lowe's hardware was the place to be for every handyman homeowner on a mission. And that's the thing...make no mistake, when we homeowners find ourselves with a sunny Saturday on our hands, we most definitely are on a mission. We are going to finish that project today even if it kills us, and the way we sling our cars around in the parking lot, getting killed seems like a reasonable expectation. See, it's only ten o'clock but we are already behind schedule. Who knew we were out of Tiki fuel? And, we could have sworn we had plenty of that mold and mildew remover that you hook the water hose to and spray on the front steps to remove that gross black stuff. But nooooo, somebody threw it away!!

Anyway, there I was yesterday picking up a few mission-essentials at the hardware store. Upon completing my purchase, I walked through the parking lot towards my car when the peaceful calm of suburbia was interrupted by the loud screech of tires, an angry horn and a stream of profanity. Some knucklehead had backed out of his space in too big of a hurry and had nearly impaled a senior citizen with an opened box of aluminum siding sticking way too far out of the back of his truck. Meanwhile, a woman in a Suburban had almost hit them both while talking on her cell phone and driving entirely too fast. Incidentally, why is it that when women use the F bomb, it sounds so much more lethal? This was near death experience number one, and I was still fifty yards from my car.

Then I saw a late model Ford Taurus with several sheets of plywood on its roof precariously secured with a few bungee chords and the driver's left hand. This sort of vehicle always warrants special attention in a hardware store parking lot, since these guys are always in a huge ball-crushing rush. Sure enough, Pedro had miscalculated the size, weight and displacement of his load and as soon as he made the first big turn, the plywood began to shift, snapping the bungee chords and slinging across the asphalt towards an incoming Tahoe. Again, profanities were exchanged.

At this point, I'm thinking of the old saw about how bad things come in threes. I get in my car determined to drive as defensively as possible. I check my mirrors, adjust my seat belt and say a quick prayer, "Lord, if you get me out of this parking lot alive, I swear I won't ever complain about how boring church is ever again...this month!"

I ease the CTS out of my space, and make my way slowly, very slowly towards the stop sign in the distance, when suddenly some guy driving a Volvo stuffed full of flowering plants obscuring his vision backs out of his space within a foot of my front bumper! I stand on the horn and scream out my own brand of anger, which if I recall went something like this, " WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE??? HOLY CRAP, IS EVERYONE IN THIS PARKING LOT ON FREAKING DRUGS??!!"

All of this for a couple of bottles of that mold and mildew remover stuff that hooks onto your water hose so you can spray it on the front steps to remove that gross black stuff.

First world problems.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Truly Horrible Eye Puns, and the Rand Paul Campaign

Yesterday I published a blog about Rand Paul's candidacy. I noted the fact that instead of being a garden variety lawyer, the senator was and is an ophthalmologist. Today, in anticipation of what surely will be a parade of horrible EYE PUNS over the next 19 months, I thought that I would get ahead of the curve and offer a few of my own:

1. Rand Paul, ophthalmologist, certainly has his eye on the White House.

2. Rand Paul, ophthalmologist, offers a unique libertarian vision.

3. Rand Paul potential campaign slogan...eyes on the prize.

4. Rand Paul, ophthalmologist, brings intense focus on NSA.

5. Rand Paul, ophthalmologist, brings farsighted approach to foreign policy.

6. If it were discovered that Rand Paul, ophthalmologist, was once a communist sympathizer, would his opponents call him a eye?

7. Does Rand Paul's vision for America need contacts?

8. Rand Paul, ophthalmologist, to appear on ABC's 20/20.

9. Rand Paul, straight-talking libertarian ophthalmologist, demonstrates  steely-eyed resolve.

10. Does Rand Paul, ophthalmologist, have a blind spot for the poor?

Please feel free to offer your own pun to this list. Then we can all sit back and count how many of these will be used by the media during the coming campaign.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Rand Paul for President?

Rand Paul is now an official candidate for President, making him the second Republican to announce his intentions. The Kentucky Senator and former ophthalmologist is one interesting dude. There's a lot to like and a lot to wonder about with Paul. Here's my take.

There are some things about him that I love. First, he's the first National Republican who seems to care about the outrageous mission-creep over at the NSA. Paul is rightly concerned about an agency of our government which has the power and apparently the inclination to spy on every American citizen. Section 215 of the Patriot Act is a ridiculously broadly written mistake that is allowing this unprecedented intrusion into our privacy and the Senator has pledged to do away with it. Good.

I also like his willingness to publicly question the long standing Republican view that it is America's job, and America's only, to be the world's policeman. He rightly asks why it is that America' military is still in Germany, Japan and Korea decades after those wars. Why exactly are the American taxpayers paying for the defense of three of our largest and most capable economic rivals?

The Senator's work on criminal justice reform has also been stellar. Mandatory minimum sentencing by any measure you choose has been an abject failure and it's time someone said so and got busy changing the policy. Cudos to him and Rick Perry in this regard. Rand Paul, in my view is the one candidate who seems the most serious and committed to restraining the growth of government. His concept of Liberty and his distrust of the power of government will serve him well in the White House.

The objections I have with him is that he seems to be a bit of a hot head. This is the temperament issue that I think is perhaps the most overlooked qualification for the office of the Presidency. Watching him interact with reporters can be worrisome. He seems prickly, too dismissive and more than a bit rude. Granted, most of the reporters he deals with hate him because he's not a liberal democrat, but that comes with the territory, and he must learn to deal with them more effectively. Although he's not as cranky as his famous father, he does give off a whiff of instability at times.

Also, to be taken seriously as a Presidential candidate, he has had to modify some of his prior positions on issues like abortion and even foreign policy, not unlike every other candidate who ever lived. These policy changes however seem all over the map, especially his views on Iran. Expediency may be a wise political move, but in Paul's case it seems more drastic. How do you go from saying that Iran is a small country that poses no threat to American interests to sounding the alarm about Obama's Iran deal as a flawed and dangerous appeasement? Surely, he isn't the first or only candidate  to commit such flip-flops, but for so eloquent a speaker about America's misadventures abroad to do such a 180 seems particularly slimy.

Still, I like his instincts. I agree with his more libertarian impulses. Let's see how he does.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Cautionary Tale

Twenty five years ago I was introduced to one of the most charismatic men I had ever seen. He was older than I was, more successful, more confident, even cockier than me. He had a beautiful wife, beautiful children and lived in a gorgeous house in an exclusive neighborhood. In short, he was practically everything that a young, struggling guy like me wanted to be.

Not only was the guy a wildly successful businessman, he was also something of a motivational speaker. Pam and I heard him speak a couple of times and loved it. I was quite mesmerized. Although we never became close friends, he remained for years someone who I held in high regard.

Then, the bloom began to come off of the rose. I began to notice an arrogance in him, a fondness for the spotlight, and most disturbing to me…an unsettling tendency towards business shortcuts. Suddenly, his company transferred him, and just as fast as he had burst onto the scene of my life, he was gone. I’ve never seen or heard from him since.

With the advent of social media, old friends never truly disappear. So over a decade later I learned of his divorce. The man with the perfect marriage, perfect wife and perfect children had left his wife. Part of me was profoundly disappointed, even grieved that a marriage that I had exalted so high in my imagination was over. The cynical side of me wasn’t surprised. Of course it was too good to be true. No couple could possibly be that deliriously happy all of the time, of course.

Now, I learn an even darker truth. I am stunned by the news. How could it have gone so wrong? How could I not have picked up on the epic level of his hypocrisy? I normally pride myself on being able to detect phoniness. My BS detector doesn’t usually fail me. Maybe as a 28 year old man, I wanted it to be true so bad that I was blinded. I wanted desperately to believe that his happy, prosperous life was attainable. In my mind, I had placed him in a trophy case as proof positive that living a Godly life in this world would bring with it rewards in the here and now, not just the hereafter.

Of course, as a 28 year old man, the sum total of things that I didn’t know would have filled an encyclopedia. I should never have exalted another human being in that way. We are all sinners, capable of anything. Still, I think about all the twenty year olds out there who look to me as an example of what they want to be. They too want a successful career, a nice house, a beautiful wife. I suddenly feel the heat of that spotlight.  I feel a heavy burden to never disappoint them the way he disappointed me. If I succeed it will be because of God’s grace.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Easter Weekend in Nashville

My Nashville weekend is over. We made it back safe and sound after spending a total of 19 hours in route and wracking up over 1300 miles on the CTS. Was it worth it, you ask? You decide.

We arrived at our hotel in Brentwood around 4 in the afternoon on Friday. This gave us some time to freshen up a bit. Patrick left his office downtown amidst a tornado alert to make the twenty minute drive to our hotel. We hadn't seen him since Christmas. He looked good and talked a mile a minute all through my birthday dinner at Mere Bulles, a fancy plantation style restaurant just a few minutes away. The best she-crab soup I've ever tasted. Everything else was just ok.

After dinner, back at the hotel, I opened my birthday presents and got caught up on all the latest news in my son's life. Great night.

Saturday, we drove to Patrick's rental house, which I had never seen. I expected it to be a dump, but it was actually nice. Since Pam had planned to cook a big Easter dinner for us all on Sunday, a grocery list had been made, and we spent the morning getting everything at the local Publix grocery store. Then we drove into downtown Nashville for a surprise 65th birthday party for Deen Entsminger at the Flying Saucer, the coolest, classiest bar in town. This was where we were to meet Patrick's girlfriend. We were a little nervous. Suppose we didn't like her? Suppose we found out that her three favorite things in the world were Kim Khardashian, hip hop and soccer? Well, it turned out that I had nothing to be worried about. Sarah was wonderful, charming, adorable and confident. Turns out that my boy is an excellent judge of character.

That evening, we attended the Great Easter Vigil at the Christ Church Cathedral Episcopal church. This is Patrick's favorite church, one that he had attended every single day for all of Easter week. He was clearly into the music, the high church formality and the ancient liturgy. To tell you the truth, I don't know what to make of it. There were parts of the service that were moving, beautifully reverent, even touching. There's something captivating about the ancient rituals, the words and phrases, identical to ones used in Easter services for countless generations of Christians through the ages. Interestingly enough, except for the infant baptism that was part of the nearly three hour service, I heard nothing that I found theologically questionable. I heard beautiful music, I heard scripture read, enough to fill a 25 page program. I heard a ten minute homily that was perfectly fine and appropriate for the occasion. Still, for three hours I never heard anything personal. It was as if everyone in robes was a symbol of something, not the thing itself. The entire service seemed devoid of emotion. There wasn't one single spontaneous moment. Literally every word spoken had first been written and inserted into the airtight program from which there was no deviation. This may just be my faith tradition blinding me from being able to fully appreciate another. But the thing is, I did enjoy parts of it, even loved parts of it. I could do without the priests singing every other sentence and honestly, I could do without all the incense.

The Sunday service was much shorter, and the lights were on, which made it seem less medieval. The music was phenomenal. I must admit that I have probably never seen a better dressed crowd. I saw more seersucker suits than I would have seen at a Matlock convention. And the hats...some of these woman would have given those British woman at the royal wedding a run for their money. The program was only 13 pages, and we actually knew one of the hymns! It was a beautiful service.

Then we all made it back to Patrick's house and Pam started working on dinner. By 6 that night it was ready. She served a honey ham that she had cooked all afternoon in a crock pot, glazed with orange marmalade, Dijon mustard and brown sugar. There was homemade Mac and cheese, green beans, a glazed walnut and pear salad with poppy seed dressing and goat cheese and a strawberry pie for dessert. Patrick and his two wonderful roommates were delighted at such a feast being placed in front of them, even more thankful for the refrigerator full of leftovers!

So...that was my weekend.

Oh yeah, I've decided not to share the details of our near death experiences as passengers in Sarah's car in downtown Nashville on Saturday night. She doesn't know me all that well yet, and I wouldn't want to give her the impression that I'm the sort of person who might take something embarrassing about her and then make a huge overblown deal out of it just to get a few laughs. Maybe later.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

An Episcopal Easter

Pam and I have experienced Easter in the Episcopal church this weekend. Last night, was a 2 and a half hour service that featured communion and baptism, lots of fire and 18 inch candles in the hands of every member of the congregation. Today, on Easter Sunday, the service will be shorter, I'm told. I'll have more to say on the experience later. It was fascinating in many ways, and about as different from the Baptist tradition as humanly and spiritually possible. I had to get up and walk around outside a couple of times, and when we left, there was still about 15 minutes to go. I know this because every single word that was spoken was written down in the thick 20 page program entitled, "The Great Vigil of Easter." 

Today is gorgeous and sunny and will feature my wife and son making a full Easter Sunday dinner in Patrick's kitchen. 

And yes, we did meet the girlfriend. She was a delight, adorable in every way. She also nearly got us all killed twice in Nashville traffic. Read tomorrow's blog for all the thrilling details.

Christ is risen.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Weekend Plans

Heading to Nashville today to spend the Easter weekend with my son. I'll be in the car for 9 and a half hours. At least it's a shiny red CTS and looks awesome. And at least there will be snacks. Still...9 and a half hours. Ugh...

Pam will be in the passenger seat, which is also awesome. She's always there, my wife. We've made lots of these sort of trips together. This is what our life has become, we bide time between weekend trips to visit our amazing children. She will stay busy by flipping through her iPad, and feeding me treats. 

Tonight, we will have my birthday dinner at a place called Mere Bulles in Brentwood, the three of us. I'm thinking either shrimp and grits or the chicken fried chicken. No diet this weekend.

There will be lunch at the Flying Saucer, an awesome beer-lovers eatery. There will be a homemade Easter meal cooked by my wife and my son in his kitchen, and we will get to meet the girlfriend.

Lucy will not be making this trip. We have hired someone to take care of her. She knows something is up. What is it with dogs and their suspicion/resentment of suitcases? I will be plagued by guilt for the first hour or so of the trip. Then, about the time we pass Charlottesville, I'll get over it and not give her a second thought, until we get into the car to head home Monday. Then, she will be all I think about.

Today on Facebook, people will graciously wish me a happy birthday. I will be surprised at how many there are and grateful to have so many wonderful people in my life. 

It will be a good day, a good weekend.

Then it will be time to plan our next trip.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Trying Desperately to Mind My Own Business

For several millennia now, "mind your own business" has been powerful advice. Followers of this admonition have reaped the benefits of a less complicated, less stressful and more fulfilling life. People who practice minding their own business have generally been admired and respected by their peers, sought out for guidance and council, and with few exceptions been highly regarded by society. But in 2015, it has grown nearly impossible to mind one's own business, because everyone else seems determined to get all up in it. This takes several annoying forms.

First, the government seems hellbent on getting tangled up in nearly every corner of my business. From monitoring my phone calls and emails to tracking my social media interactions, even to taking away my God-given right to a Big-Gulp, my government is determined to do for me what my mother did for the first 18 years of my life. My mother's detective-like skills were arrayed against me out of maternal love. The government's oversight and overreach is "for my own good" and for the greater societal good, I'm told by my liberal friends. "Yes, you must buy health insurance Doug whether you want to or not because...well, because we know what's best for you."

But it's not just the government, everyone wants to tell me what to do, what to think and even what I can and cannot say. The growing list of words and phrases that have suddenly been judged to be hurtful or triggering has grown faster than the national debt. It seems like practically every thing that comes out of my mouth anymore can be taken as a micro-aggression by some marginalized group or another. Nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than in the tiresome cultural clash between homosexuals and Christians.

Full disclosure...I am a Christian, I am not a homosexual. So, there is a good possiblity that what I am about to say will offend someone. Someone reading this might feel micro-aggressed at some point in the next paragraph or two, so if your constitution isn't sufficiently blessed with self confidence, I would suggest that you stop reading immediately.

When this Indiana law thing broke last week, it caught me totally by surprise. I didn't know the first thing about the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act." So, I had to do a bunch of reading. My opinion coalesced around the notion that the RFRA might very well have been well-intended but might possibly result in descrimination. Still, the response of the gay rights community seemed over the top with hysteria. I mean, come on people. Gay marriage has gone from a pipe dream to a reality in ten short years, the gay lifestyle is celebrated from Hollywood to Academia, gay people are amoung the most successful, high earning demographics known to exist in the free world. But to see them screaming in the streets, you would think that the prospect of being denied a wedding cake by some baker in Gary was about to usher in the Age of Darkness. It's like, the gay rights movement can't take "yes" for an answer. They seem determined not to rest until every single solitary person in America is forced to celebrate them! Instead of organizing boycotts of the entire State of Indiana, how about you try a different baker and let the marketplace punish the knuckle-dragger?

And the Christians? Holy overreaction, Batman! Why, we can't make a cake for a gay couple because that would tell the world that we approve of gay marriage. Sure. Just like when you made that cake for the Stein's last week told the world that you approve of Judaism. Or when you baked that three layer beauty a month ago for that hard partying couple from Indianapolis told the world that you approve of heavy drinking and dirty dancing. If providing a product or service to a customer equals moral and spiritual approval of that customer's conduct, then I'm thinking that every Christian business needs to come up with a rather extensive questionaire to give to all potential prospects....

1. Have you ever, or do you ever plan to break one of the Ten Commandments while using this product or service? If so, put this survey down and exit the building.

Not exactly a viable business plan.

Listen, I get the fact that there is a huge divide between homosexuality and evangelical Christianity, one that does not lend itself to quick fixes. There seems to me to be a rather clear scriptural basis for the proposition that homosexuality is a sin and not part of God's plan for his creation. But I find no reason why that fact precludes me from being friends with gays, or doing business with gays. Nobody died and made me judge and jury of other people's lives. I happen to be a sinner who lives in a world full of other sinners. Hell, I'm up to my elbows in sinners here. While I like to think my sins aren't as bad as my neighbors, that's not up to me. It's none of my business, actually. Scripture tells me that the entirety of God's laws can be summed up in two of love God with all my heart, and to love my neighbor as myself. That sounds a lot easier and more fun than organizing boycotts.

Or maybe, we all need to just mind our own business.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April Fools. The Greatest Day of the Year.

Today is the day. It's finally here. All the plotting and scheming is over, all the planning done. Now comes the fun part. 

April Fools Day is simply put, the greatest day of the year. Christmas? Psshhtt! Thanksgiving, July the 4th? Puh-lease. Nothing compares to a day when you wake up and suddenly practical jokes are acceptable behavior, suddenly it is not only ok but expected to hide open cans of cat food in the filing cabinets of your colleagues. For one day of the year, I'm allowed to sabotage the copy machine by slipping random sheets of paper throughout an entire ream with big bold type declaring that BLAIRE IS AN IDIOT. Only on this blessed day am I allowed to fill storage cabinets chocked full of orange ping pong balls, or place cloves of garlic inside the mouth pieces of people's phones. It's difficult to put into words the thrill one gets from watching your buddies losing their minds trying to figure out why their computers keep typing words in Japanese. Watching them go slowly mad trying to find the source of that annoying, shrill BEEP that is coming from somewhere every three minutes. The sound of female screams from down the hall when suddenly my remote controlled mouse scampers out from under their desk is, professionally speaking, about as good as work gets.

So, I better wrap this up and get to work. I don't want to miss anything.